05 Aug 2015
Apple Pay launched in the UK in July, and we've been trying out the mobile payment system on an Apple Watch to see how easy it is to set up and use.
Not all Apple Watch owners can use Apple Pay. You need to bank with one of the banks currently supporting the mobile payments system - HSBC, First Direct, NatWest, Nationwide Building Society, RBS, Santander, Ulster Bank and MBNA - or have an American Express, MasterCard or Visa issued by the credit card providers.
If you're one of the lucky few, you can go ahead and set up your payment card, but you'll need your iPhone to do this.
Setting up the card should be a straightforward process. You just open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone and click through to the Passbook & Apple Pay section. Click 'Add Credit or Debit Card' and you'll be able to hold the phone over your payment card to store the details using the inbuilt scanner.
Once you've completed this step, you need to verify the card details by requesting an SMS or email with a one-time code or calling the issuing bank.
We requested an email, which came through in seconds, and as soon as we entered the one-time code within the 30 minute window, our card was stored in the Passbook app on the Apple Watch.
You can save multiple cards into Passbook to use with Apple Pay, and the app will default to the first one you saved in originally. You can change this by visiting the same section in the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, and changing your default card.
If you're trying to pay with a card not accepted in a certain store or app, such as American Express, you'll be able to pass payment over to the next card in your Passbook.
Hitting the shops
There are already more than 250,000 locations accepting Apple Pay, according to Apple. You can see the whole list on the Apple Pay site.
Apple Pay is supported in most shops in exactly the same way as contactless payments, meaning there's a £20 limit. This will rise to £30 in September as the contactless limit also rises. We tested Apple Pay on the Apple Watch at Tesco, Co-op and Marks & Spencer, with mixed results.
M&S is one of a small number of retailers said to accept high-value transactions, meaning there should be no limit on the amount you can spend.
Pay and go
Once you've picked your items and queued at the tills, just choose to pay via contactless and double click the side button on your Apple Watch. This will let you choose which card you want to pay with.
Then hold the device over the payment terminal in the same way you would a payment card. You'll need to tap the reader with the Apple Watch screen for payment to go through.
We tried paying for low-value items in Tesco and Co-op, but our efforts were initially thwarted. Even though both stores accept American Express, we were unable to pay with our Amex card set up on the Apple Watch. Once we switched to Visa, the payments went through.
We encountered similar problems in M&S. The Apple Pay logo was displayed on the card reader, which is supposed to indicate a store that supports high-value, limitless transactions. However, our transaction of £35 would not go through using any of the cards set up with our Apple Watch.
The shop assistants - by this time we had quite a crowd of M&S staffers keen to see how the Apple Watch actually worked - were insistent that Apple Pay actually supports only up to £30, which was written on the board upstairs, so they told us.
So the next attempts saw some of my items being removed and trying to pay for £25 worth of goods. Again, failure. This was then reduced to under the standard contactless amount of £20, but by then the card reader had clearly given up, and our patience had run out.
Fortunately M&S redeemed itself in the food hall, when I was able to pay for a £4 item using the Apple Watch, with no glitches.
M&S has since been in touch to verify that the current limit in store is £20 on all Apple Pay transactions, and that the retailer is currently looking at increasing to high-value contactless payments in line with the planned national increases to £30 in the autumn.
So, mixed results for Apple Pay on the Apple Watch. It's incredibly simple to set up, and using it in store is definitely quicker than fishing around in your pocket or bag for a purse or wallet and then finding your payment card, as you can just tap your watch on the reader.
But it seems a bit hit and miss at present as to which payment cards and payment amounts are supported, and stores that should be accepting Apple Watch payments don't always seem to be doing so.
To see Apple Pay in action, check out our video of the mobile payment system on an iPhone 6.
Motorola has refreshed its budget smartphone line with three new models: the third-generation Moto G, the Moto X Play and the Moto X Style. The Moto G is available now, while the Moto X Play and Moto X Style launch in August and September respectively.
All three are pitched as cheap alternatives to Apple's and Samsung's premium devices. As such, they feature more high-end specs than might be expected for under £400, or in the Moto G's case under £200, along with the latest Android 5.1.1 Lollipop OS.
Here's what we think of the three new models so far, having got our hands on them briefly at an event in London.
All three smartphones can be fitted with customised back covers; we saw panels made of wood, silicon rubber and a variety of coloured plastics. They also sport distinctively curved backs, making even the giant 5.7in Moto X Style reasonably comfortable to hold.
The Moto G has a trick of its very own - it's waterproof to the IPX7 specification, meaning it can survive depths of up to 1m for 30 minutes. We tested this by dunking it into a handily-provided tank of water, and can confirm that the Moto G survived without problems.
Generally, the Moto G, Moto X Play and Moto X Style don't look and feel too cheap. They're all fitted with microSD ports, which is another plus, although even the latter two probably won't be mistaken for premium handsets with their largely plastic construction, middling weight and unremarkable thinness.
The £379 Moto X Style is the most expensive of the three, but also features the best screen: a 5.7in display at 1440x2560 resolution. It looks beautifully crisp, with vibrant colours and wide viewing angles.
The Moto X Play's slightly smaller 5.5in display runs at 1080x1920, not as sharp as its bigger brother but it's still full HD and offers enough pixels for practically any task.
The Moto G's 5in, 720x1280 display is exactly the same specs-wise as it was on the previous second-gen model. This missed opportunity for improvement is a little disappointing, but the screen is still fine in practice. Nothing looked blurred or desaturated, which is pretty respectable for a £159 handset.
As we said, each of these smartphones will run Android 5.1.1 Lollipop out of the box. Considering that this latest version hasn't even rolled out to many older, more expensive, phones, the Moto line already looks like a great way to take advantage of 5.1's security, performance and mobile device management improvements over 5.0.
Even better is that Motorola has refrained from adding a custom skin or any kind of bloatware. The former, while sometimes capable of adding helpful features, is often a nuisance that delays the delivery of vital updates, so we're glad to see Motorola keeping things basic.
We didn't get a chance to run benchmarks, but the Moto X Play and Moto X Style both felt sufficiently nippy when navigating menus and launching apps.
This is probably down to the upgraded internals. The Moto X Play packs a beefy Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor and 2GB of RAM, while the Moto X Style has a Snapdragon 808 hexa-core processor with 3GB of RAM.
It's odd that the pricier option (the Moto X Play starts at £299) includes fewer cores, although the extra gig of RAM should help with multitasking.
Only the Moto G lapsed into sluggishness when opening apps and rapidly switching between tasks. To be fair, these occurrences were brief, and it's worth noting that the third-gen model's specs are a significant upgrade on its predecessor - a 1.4GHz, 64-bit Snapdragon 410 processor compared with the second-gen's 1.2GHz, 32-bit Snapdragon 400 - plus double the RAM at 2GB.
The most impressive aspects of the Moto X Play and Moto X Style are their main rear cameras, both of which include vast 21MP sensors. On paper, at least, that puts them easily among the best smartphone cameras around.
The Moto G's 13MP rear snapper is also a huge number of pixels for the price, and a marked improvement on the older model's 8MP.
It's hard to judge the true quality of pictures on a smartphone screen, but all three cameras took seemingly strong snaps even under the glaring lights of the event venue's showroom.
The front-facing cameras also put in a decent showing. The Moto X Play and Moto X Style both have 5MP sensors to capture fairly smooth, clear images. Unsurprisingly, the Moto G's 2MP front camera produced much noisier, less colour-rich shots.
For consumers and even businesses on a budget, there isn't much in the £300-£400 bracket that will be able to match the specs of the Moto X Play and Moto X Style. With good processors, great screens and an up-to-date OS, these smartphones are already looking like very tempting prospects.
The Moto G, meanwhile, is likely to continue Motorola's dominance of the sub-£200 market, having received some worthwhile upgrades while keeping its almost bafflingly low price.
We'll take a more in-depth look in our upcoming review, particularly at what it can offer enterprise users, but for now it appears that Motorola has created yet another solid entry-level smartphone.
Apple Pay launched in the UK on 14 July, and we've been trying out the mobile payment system to see how easy it is to use, and whether it really has the ability to be a game-changer in our move towards a cashless society.
The first thing to note is that the system is fairly limited at present in who can actually use Apple Pay in the UK. You need to have one of the latest generation Apple devices: iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air 2 or iPad Mini 3 or the Apple Watch.
And once you've passed that hurdle, you need to bank with one of the banks currently supporting Apple Pay - HSBC, First Direct, NatWest, Nationwide Building Society, RBS, Santander, Ulster Bank and MBNA - or have an American Express, MasterCard or Visa issued by the credit card providers.
The first thing you need to do to get going with Apple Pay is to set up a supporting card. Luckily, we're one of the small band of possible users, as we've got a supported credit card and the iPhone 6, along with an Apple Watch.
Setting up the card should be a straightforward process. You just open Passbook on your iPhone, click the + button on the top right corner and you'll be able to hold the phone over your payment card to store the details using the inbuilt scanner.
Once you've completed this step, you need to verify the card details by requesting an SMS with a one-time code or calling the issuing bank.
Unfortunately for us, we had an old mobile number associated with our card account and had to go through the latter process, which was long and painful with random questions thrown at us about our star sign and the first two letters of our dog's favourite food, or something.
So hot tip here: make sure your mobile number is up to date on your bank account so you get the quick and easy text message verification.
Once we'd been verified, our bank went ahead and activated a token, which meant that our card was approved for use, with details stored in Passbook. You can save multiple cards into Passbook to use with Apple Pay, and the app will default to the first one you saved in originally. You can change this by visiting Passbook and Apple Watch in the Settings menu, and changing your default card.
If you're trying to pay with a card not accepted in a certain store or app, such as American Express, you'll be able to pass payment over to the next card in your Passbook.
Hitting the shops
We decided to carry out our first tests on the high street, using our iPhone 6. There are already more than 250,000 locations accepting Apple Pay, according to Apple. You can see the whole list on the Apple Pay site.
We chose our trial locations based on distance and requirement - basically we needed some toothpaste and food so we went to Boots and Marks & Spencer, as these are near our office.
Apple Pay is supported in most shops in exactly the same way as contactless payments, meaning there's a £20 limit. This will rise to £30 in September as the contactless limit also rises.
Pay and go
Once you've picked your items and queued at the tills, just choose to pay via contactless, and then hold your iPhone over the payment terminal in the same way you would a payment card.
Remember to actually place your iPhone on the reader. If you just hover over it, the payment won't process. You don't need to have Passbook open as the card details should just pop up and then ask you to use Touch ID to make the payment.
Marks & Spencer is one of a small number of retailers currently accepting high-value transactions, meaning there's no limit on the amount you can spend. We didn't have time to start trying on clothes or shopping for expensive shampoo, so we just laid out £1.60 in our transaction.
When we got to the self-service payment terminal, we had to choose to pay by credit card from the options on the screen - there was no Apple Pay or contactless symbol.
But the Apple Pay logo was displayed on the card reader, confirming that we could have spent any amount, and again the transaction was very smooth. We just held the iPhone across the top of the reader with our thumb over the Home button and the item was ours.
So far, we've been impressed with Apple Pay. It's incredibly simple to set up, and using it in store is quicker than fishing around in your pocket or bag for a purse or wallet and then finding your payment card. As so many of us have our phones glued to our hands now, it means you can pay for goods with no effort at all.
We'll be trying out Apple Pay again over the next few days on an Apple Watch and also for in-app purchases using an iPad, and will update this article to confirm higher value purchases as soon as we find an excuse to make some.
27 Jul 2015
Windows 10 is fast approaching release, and with it comes Microsoft's first new browser in two decades: Microsoft Edge.
Internet Explorer is going into semi-retirement - it'll be included in Windows 10, though mainly for compatibility with legacy applications - so it's time to see whether Edge can succeed where its slow, insecure predecessor failed.
We sat down with Microsoft for a live demo and found a browser that, while lacking in must-have enterprise features, is already showing quite a bit of potential.
We'll say this for Edge: it looks impressively clean, a far cry from the chunky, toolbar-strangled interfaces of IE over the years. Favourites, Bookmarks and Downloads are tucked away in the drop-down Hub, an all-in-one menu accessible from one of the few icons sitting below the address bar.
As part of Windows 10's Continuum interface, Edge will optimise its layout based on whether it's running on a touch device or one with a keyboard and mouse/touchpad. When Windows 10 is in Touch view, Edge becomes a full-screen app, as we'd expect from something running on a phone or tablet.
Conversely, when a keyboard is detected, Edge will run in a resizable window, just like any other application you've ever run on a Windows 7 or 8.1 desktop.
We've been impressed by how Windows 10 can switch between these two views very near instantaneously, such as when a convertible tablet is docked with an attachable keyboard. This extends to Edge, which will quickly adjust its interface to fit the control method.
During our demo, Windows UK project manager Ian Moulster told V3 that Edge has been geared specifically towards consumers, as opposed to the more business-focused Internet Explorer. As such, Edge's headline features tend towards consuming content.
For instance, Reading View returns from IE 11, stripping away menus and adverts to leave webpage text and images in a straightforward, minimalist format. It goes even further in Edge, cranking up the text size and arranging it into a single column.
It's easy to see the appeal of a quick tool for cleaning up messy pages, on tablets in particular, even if switching in and out of Reading View will probably be too much of a bother for those who tend to bounce between multiple tabs.
Reading List, a Windows 8.1 app that recorded pages to read later, is also more closely integrated with Edge; new pages can be added in two clicks, and the List itself is accessible straight from the Hub. Like Reading View, it's not an original feature but has been reworked to become more user friendly in Edge. As far as we can tell, it has done so successfully.
One genuinely new feature is the integration of Cortana, Microsoft's attempt at a digital assistant, into Edge's search functions. Highlighting a name or phrase will enable Cortana to look it up, offering dictionary definitions and relevant web pages based on who or what is searched for.
In our demo, Cortana successfully identified the LinkedIn page of a fairly obscure geographer whose name was buried in a randomly chosen news article.
Cortana is widely integrated with Windows 10 and its key apps, and we're slightly concerned that it will become more of a nuisance than a help. But the digital assistant's presence in Edge is seldom felt unless it is asked to provide help, which is as it should be.
Regardless of Edge's lack of enterprise focus, it's worth noting that Microsoft's new browser adheres to many more web standards than IE ever did, introducing full support for media source extensions, touch events, CSS feature queries and many more specifications. This should enable more feature-rich websites to work correctly in Edge, which is good news for consumers and enterprise users alike.
That said, Edge still has a long way to go before it can match competing browsers in its web standards support. Edge greatly lags behind Chrome and Firefox in the number of specifications it currently supports, despite offering more robust compatibility than the most recent IE 11.
We haven't had Edge's security features demoed to us, but on paper they already sound like a big improvement on IE's protections.
For starters, Microsoft has ditched ActiveX, its creaking, malware-ridden framework for developing extensions, switching instead to HTML5. Support for the HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) protocol is also built in to Edge to help ensure that certified websites can be accessed only over a secure connection.
HSTS is used for such highly sensitive services as online banking, so it's good to see Microsoft appreciating the need to keep Edge up to date with its supported protocols.
Like all Universal Apps - Microsoft-vetted apps that work exactly the same on the core and mobile editions of Windows 10 - Edge will also operate in its own Container Sandbox. This means that its processes run entirely independently from the rest of the system. So even if the Edge app is tampered with in a cyber attack, it can't be used as a launching point to access data stored on the rest of the machine.
That's the idea, anyway. Apple requires developers to implement a very similar measure in iOS apps, and seems to have found success in preventing infected apps taking over entire systems. Here's hoping that Microsoft can balance the need for secure applications with the need to maintain Windows' open ecosystem.
Speed is crucial to any web browser and, from our brief time with it, it looks like Edge won't disappoint. Pages load instantly, even when plastered with images, and navigating menus is similarly swift. Scrolling is smooth as well, which should be particularly welcome to Reading View users.
However, there was a noticeable delay before results appeared when using Cortana to search highlighted words. Since these results show up in a separate sub-window that pops out from the right, this leaves a few seconds where a fifth of the screen is filled with dead space. It's far from ruinous, but Cortana's relaxed pace is a little incongruous with how zippy Edge can be otherwise.
Despite the consumer focus, Edge's combination of new features and incremental improvements over IE already look to make it a welcome replacement as the default Windows browser.
However, Edge is entering a field that includes such fast, secure, versatile and deeply entrenched products as Chrome, Firefox and Opera. To truly make Edge a contender, Microsoft will need to stick to its ‘Windows-as-a-service' principle and provide continuous updates to the new browser's security measures and web standards support.
23 Jul 2015
Apple is not the unassailable juggernaut in the tablet market that it once was. The firm has released strong products like the 9.7in iPad Air 2 and the 8in iPad Mini, but Apple's slate sales have fallen significantly in the past year, despite rising demand for business-friendly tablets.
To complicate matters, Samsung has just announced the Galaxy Tab S2, a follow-up to 2014's excellent Galaxy Tab S. It's launching in August in 9.7in and 8in models, notably identical screen sizes to its two big Apple competitors.
Both parties can expect a struggle when the Galaxy Tab S2 hits the shelves. Samsung has the thinner, lighter design with a greater emphasis on business use, but it's going up against established high-end products from Apple that made tablet PCs a big deal in the first place.
We'll have a full review of Samsung's effort closer to release, but for now we've compared the specs of the 9.7in Galaxy Tab S2 with the 9.7in iPad Air 2 to see which ultra-thin tablet has the theoretical edge.
Dimensions and design
Galaxy Tab S2: 169x237x5.6mm, 389g (WiFi)/392g (LTE)
iPad Air 2: 170x240x6.1mm, 437g (WiFi)/444g (LTE)
It's a narrow victory - literally - but the Galaxy Tab S2 wins out here in terms of thinness, screen-to-bezel ratio and weight.
That's not a failing of the iPad Air 2 by any means; despite being released last year, it's still a superbly thin and light tablet by 2015 standards, and 0.5mm is hardly a yawning chasm of a depth difference.
We are intrigued by the Galaxy Tab S2's new metal case, though. It's a clear upgrade to the polycarbonate bodywork on the original Galaxy Tab S, and possibly an attempt to give the second-generation model a more premium look and feel on par with the iPad Air 2. Apple's tablet already has these qualities to spare, thanks to its anodised aluminium chassis.
Ultimately, these two products are so similar in terms of design and materials (though we say that having not tested the Galaxy Tab S2's build quality) that the 'better' of the two will be determined largely by personal preference.
Galaxy Tab S2: Samsung Exynos 4533 octa-core (4x1.9GHz, 4x1.3GHz) application processor with 3GB RAM
iPad Air 2: Apple 1.5GHz triple-core A8X with 2GB RAM
The iPad Air 2's A8X system on a chip is a powerful processor that performed very well in our review tests, but the Galaxy Tab S2 - on paper - dwarfs it.
With more cores and more RAM, we expect the Exynos 4533 to have the upper hand, especially when multitasking or running applications that particularly benefit from multithreading, such as games.
Galaxy Tab S2: 9.7in Super AMOLED display at 2048x1536 resolution
iPad Air 2: 9.7in Retina display at 2048x1536 resolution
Resolution is a dead heat; both devices share the exact same PPI of 264, meaning they'll look equally sharp (though not as crisp as some smaller, sub-8in tablets).
We're more familiar with the iPad Air 2's bright and vibrant display, but we've always been impressed by the boldness of previous Super AMOLED screens - including that of the original Galaxy Tab S - so we're confident that the Galaxy Tab S2 will maintain that level of quality.
The iPad Air 2 display's main advantage will be its anti-reflective coating which, as we said in our review, does an admirable job of resisting glare.
Samsung hasn't announced whether the Galaxy Tab S2 will have an anti-reflective screen, but the Korean firm generally doesn't bother with such coatings, instead preferring to sell stick-on screen protectors with the same functionality.
Operating system and software
Galaxy Tab S2: Android 5.0 Lollipop
iPad Air 2: iOS 8.4
The iPad Air 2 runs the latest version of Apple's mobile OS, having launched with and upgraded from iOS 8.1. In addition to useful tools introduced in 8.1, like the revamped QuickType keyboard, swipe gesture controls and Continuity webpage/document syncing features, 8.4 introduced a number of bug fixes, including one for a notorious problem where receiving a certain Unicode text through iMessage caused the device to crash.
Even so, we're inclined to favour the Galaxy Tab S2 for its use of Android 5.0 Lollipop and selection of pre-installed productivity software. It would be nice if it ran the more recent Android 5.1, but 5.0 is still a significant improvement on previous versions, boasting a less intrusive notification system, performance enhancements for multi-core processors, auto-enabled encryption and a battery saver mode.
What's more, the Galaxy Tab S2 will come pre-loaded with Microsoft Office Solutions, featuring the Android versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote straight out of the box.
These apps can be purchased separately on the iPad Air 2, but having such versatile Windows-compatible software already installed (and at no extra cost) is a huge boost to the Samsung tablet's enterprise credentials. iOS isn't without its strengths, but the Galaxy Tab S2 wins this round.
Impressively, both tablets include a touch-operated fingerprint sensor. Biometrics aren't a flawless security tool - you can change a password if it gets discovered, but you can't change a fingerprint - yet fingerprint readers remain an efficient authentication method for devices shared between multiple users, as is often the case with business tablets.
On the software side, Samsung said that the Galaxy Tab S2 will have additional anti-malware applications pre-installed, although it hasn't specified what these might be. In any case, adding an extra layer of protection over Android's encryption and authentication measures shows that Samsung is taking security seriously.
But perhaps not as seriously as Apple. The iPad Air 2 benefits from iOS 8.4's dizzying number of built-in security functions, from support for the Secure Enclave - a separate processor that locks off key management information if the kernel is compromised - to 256-bit encryption of apps that may hold corporate data, such as Mail, Contacts and iMessage.
Since iOS isn't open source, like Android, it's also proved less susceptible to malware and general cyber attacks.
We're definitely keeping an eye on the additional security software included with the Galaxy Tab S2, but for now the iPad Air 2 takes the security advantage.
Galaxy Tab S2: 5,870mAh
iPad Air 2: 27.3-watt-hour rechargeable lithium polymer battery
Strictly in terms of numbers, Apple takes this one as well; the iPad Air 2's 27.3-watt-hour battery equates to a considerable 7,340mAh, trouncing the Galaxy Tab S2.
The extent to which this will result in a longer battery life in practice remains to be seen. In our battery burn tests, we found the iPad Air 2 stood up to its claimed video playback of 10 hours.
Since both tablets have the exact same screen size, we'd expect the Galaxy Tab S2's smaller battery to fall quite a bit shorter. That said, it's possible that Android 5.0's battery saving mode could help it limp on.
Galaxy Tab S2: 32GB or 64GB internal storage, expandable with up to 128GB of microSD storage
iPad Air 2: 16GB, 64GB or 128GB internal storage
We appreciate the iPad Air 2 offering a wider range of internal storage sizes than the Galaxy Tab S2, even if the 16GB option is a little low for enterprise use. Otherwise, there's not much between the two in the storage stakes, as 32GB, 64GB and 128GB drives are all perfectly serviceable by slate standards.
Regardless, the Galaxy Tab S2's microSD support is a big plus. Besides hot-swappable cards giving the Galaxy Tab S2 effectively limitless capacity, there's a practical efficiency benefit in being able to quickly transfer data stored on microSD between the tablet and, say, a smartphone or camera.
Galaxy Tab S2: 8MP rear-facing camera, 2.1MP front-facing camera
iPad Air 2: 8MP rear-facing camera, 1.2MP front-facing camera
It's quite surprising that the Galaxy Tab S2's front camera has the better specs here. Apple has always been keen on promoting the iPad and iPhone series as video calling tools via its FaceTime app, but for those who hold image quality paramount the Samsung tablet will be the better choice.
As for the rear cameras, the Galaxy Tab S2 rises above megapixel parity with 2K video recording. The iPad Air 2 can manage only 1080p (not that 1080p is in any way poor).
The Apple device, on the other hand, boasts a long list of extra features which might make it the more versatile camera: a five-element lens, enhanced face detection, exposure control and panorama mode. So far, the only special feature announced for the Galaxy Tab S2's rear camera is autofocus, which the iPad Air 2 has as well.
Overall, our instinct is that the higher-quality front camera and 2K rear camera will make the Galaxy Tab S2 a better tablet for shutterbugs, although we're going to withhold judgement until we can test it ourselves.
Nine months is a long time in tech, so the 2014 iPad Air 2 should be lauded for how well its specs hold up against the newly announced Galaxy Tab S2. In some areas, like security features and battery size, Apple's tablet has even maintained distinct advantages.
All the same, it's hard not to get excited about the Galaxy Tab S2; the successor to one of our favourite tablets ever, it looks set to improve on the original with a more secure OS, extra productivity software and an even thinner, lighter design.
At the very least, anyone in the market for a new high-end slate should consider holding off on the iPad Air 2 and waiting a few weeks to see whether the Galaxy Tab S2 can deliver on its huge potential.
08 Jul 2015
The BBC showed off the final build of its Micro:bit system board on Tuesday, as the corporation tries to get UK school kids into coding.
The board will land in the palms of school kids for free this September, and is part of the BBC's Make It Digital initiative to inspire digital creativity in young people across the UK.
It has been launched in partnership with a bunch of influential companies, from ARM and Samsung to Barclays and Microsoft.
After the announcement, the BBC hosted a demonstration of the Micro:bit integrated into a variety of projects that use sensors and other components to solve problems.
Some of the highlights included a guitar built from cardboard around the Micro:bit that uses sensors and speakers and gets louder the harder you shake it, a sensor that detects when a plant's soil is dry and initiates watering, a Scalextric-style app-powered car racing game, and a football score board.
We snapped some photos of these projects in action, as you can see below.
The Micro:bit project builds on the legacy of the seminal BBC Micro, which was put into the majority of schools in the 1980s and was paramount in the careers of many of today's technology pioneers.
The BBC said that the Micro:bit is 18 times faster than the original BBC Micro and 617 times lighter. The BBC hopes the Micro:bit will expand children's conception of what a computer can be by showing how it works and how the components fit together.
The BBC will tie the initiative in with programmes such as Children in Need and EastEnders.
The BBC and its partners hope to enable children to begin working on coding and computer maker projects at a young age and thus inspire them to become the software engineers and technology leaders of the future.
Micro:bit was unveiled as a prototype in March, but today's official launch showed off the board's final design and specifications.
These include a 4x5cm board with 25 red LEDs, two programmable buttons, an accelerometer, a built-in magnetometer to work as a compass and determine location, Bluetooth Smart connectivity, and five I/O rings to connect to devices or sensors using crocodile clips or 4mm banana plugs.
29 Jun 2015
When it comes to wearable tech, all eyes appear to be on the Apple Watch. That said, it faces determined competition from the very company that, just a few years ago, defined what a smartwatch could achieve: Pebble.
Following the Kickstarter-smashing success of the original Pebble Watch, the new Pebble Time is approaching release, bringing with it a stylish redesign, new voice features and software that works with Android and iOS devices alike.
We've taken a look at both the Pebble Time and the Apple Watch to see which smartwatch, on paper, deserves to take the world's wrists by storm.
Dimensions and design
Apple Watch: 39x33x10.5mm or 42x40x10.5mm
Pebble Time: 40.5x37.5x9.5mm
While the Pebble Time's length and width sit in between the two Apple Watch sizes, it's a sliver thinner than both. It's also quite a bit lighter, weighing just 42.5g whereas the Apple Watch can vary between 56g and 125g depending on which strap is equipped. The Pebble Time should therefore have a slight edge for active users who want their smartchwatch to be as bulk-free as possible.
Strictly aesthetics-wise, though, the Apple Watch wins. The Pebble Time's bezel looks gigantic compared to Apple's slimline, polished aluminium design, which has the added practical benefit of maximising screen space.
Both devices have been built for durability, though with differing techniques. The Pebble Time's Marine-grade stainless steel case is treated with a PVD (Physical Vapour Deposited) coating for extra toughness, while the Apple Watch's own stainless steel case has been cold-forged, supposedly making it up to 80 percent stronger. The glass display is also protected by a layer of sapphire crystal. It's hard to say which has the advantage without real-world testing, though it's worth noting that Pebble claims its watch is water-resistant to 30 metres; the Apple Watch is certified to the IPX7 waterproof standard, meaning it can survive a "short duration of water duration" at depths of less than one metre.
Apple Watch: OLED Retina display, 272x340 with 290 PPI or 319x390 with 296 PPI
Pebble Time: E-Paper 2.5D display, 144x168 at 180 PPI
The Pebble Time can't hope to compete with the high resolutions and crisp PPIs of both Apple Watch sizes. Still, it's not all bad news - the 64-colour display is a big improvement on the monochrome screen of the original Pebble Watch, and the use of transflective E-Paper tech should mean the Pebble Time will be easily readable in direct sunlight.
E-Paper draws a lot less power than OLED screens as well - though for anyone for who wants their apps to look their best, the sharper Apple Watch displays should be the superior choice.
Apple Watch: watchOS
Pebble Time: Pebble OS
Both smartwatches take advantage of custom-designed operating systems to run apps and connect with other mobile devices. It's the latter regard that gives the Pebble Time one of its biggest wins over the Apple Watch: it can sync with both Android and iOS devices, whereas the Apple Watch - in typical Apple fashion - can only sync with iOS.
This will allow almost anyone to pick up a Pebble Time and have it to work together with their current smartphone or tablet; getting the most out of an Apple Watch demands the user own, or be willing to buy, an iPhone or iPad.
Functionality is a bit more even-footed. Both smartwatches support speech-to-text dictation, allowing users to respond to text messages hands-free. Both devices will also run a huge number of first- and third-party apps, from Evernote for the Pebble Time to Instagram on the Apple Watch. However, the Pebble Time is missing one useful tool: it doesn't natively allow users to set reminders, which the Apple Watch will do out of the box. Those who want to truly future-proof their timepiece may also be tempted by the Apple Watch's support for Apple Pay, a contactless payment system backed by eight major UK banks and all major credit and debit card providers. It's due to launch in the UK this July.
Apple Watch: 205mAH, up to 72 hours' battery life
Pebble Time: 150mAH, up to seven days' battery life
No contest here; even with the smaller battery, the Pebble Time claims more than twice the battery life of the Apple Watch. What's more, Apple's 72-hour estimate is based on "Power Reserve" mode, which disables everything but the basic watch interface. Normal usage will, according to Apple, see battery life plummet to 18 hours at the most.
This is where the Pebble Time's E-Paper screen starts to pay off. Yes, it's not nearly as good-looking as the Apple Watch's display, but unlike the latter's OLED tech, E-Paper only draws power when refreshing - hence the lengthy battery life. Daily charging might not be a huge problem for casual consumers who can leave their Apple Watch plugged in at home overnight, but for business users who frequently travel, the Pebble Time's longevity is a considerable advantage.
Apple Watch: 8GB
Pebble Time 16MB
Storage is an easy victory for the Apple Watch, trouncing the Pebble Time's tiny 16MB flash drive. That's enough for a fair few apps, but storing music and pictures is a no-go.
To be fair, the Apple Watch makes the odd move of segregating its memory, capping picture storage to 75MB and music storage to 2GB. The rest, presumably, will be taken up by apps, settings and the OS. Still, while this limits the Apple Watch to holding a couple of hundred songs and photos, that alone is a lot more than what can be squeezed onto the Pebble Time.
While facing the hugely-anticipated Apple Watch off against the plucky, crowdfunded Pebble Time might seem like an unfair fight, the latter is a serious challenger to what might otherwise be another case of Apple dominance. The extended battery life, superior waterproofing, platform agnosticism and low price - just £179 to the £299 cost of the cheapest Apple variant, the 38mm Apple Watch Sport - will make it an attractive prospect to fitness enthusiasts and "road warrior" enterprise users alike.
Still, there's the old maxim of "you get what you pay for" to consider, and the Apple Watch clearly has the better display and storage specs. These give it a versatility which, unfortunately for this underdog, the Pebble Time just can't beat.
12 Jun 2015
Asus unveiled a number of hybrid devices, an update to its ZenWatch wearable and even a phone dedicated to selfies at Computex in June, but what stood out among the crowd - perhaps for all the wrong reasons - were two 8in ZenPad tablets.
Replacing the MeMO Pad series launched at Computex two years ago, the ZenPad family of tablets are aimed at the more fashion conscious among us. They feature Asus' fresh Zen UI user interface design alongside a series of fashion cases and accessories, such as the "ZenClutch" - a pastel coloured leather case aiming to make the tablet more desirable as a fashion accessory.
During its keynote, Asus execs even went as far as to demo just how fashionable they can look by parading the tablets around on stage in a catwalk manner with some gaunt and pasty looking models.
The 8in ZenPad devices come in two variants: a ZenPad 8.0 and a ZenPad S 8.0, the latter being the more powerful of the two, which we got some hands-on time with.
With a 4:3 aspect ratio display, the shape of the ZenPad takes a boxier look than Asus' previous MeMo tablet releases, going head to head with the iPad Mini, which features the same ratio display. While this makes it harder to hold with one hand in portrait mode than a 16:9 tablet, it's much easier to hold with two hands as well as being better for productivity tasks, such as working on word documents.
The ZenPad S 8.0's 298g metallic edging means it also feels much more premium than the previous plastic MeMo series. Its slim design, measuring just 6.6mm thick, also makes it much lighter and thus more portable than the 7.5mm predecessor.
Overall, we were big fans of the updated tablet design by Asus this year. The company has given it a much needed overhaul and made it appear more desirable, being a little different to the standard 16:9 plastic-coated Android tablet that the market seems saturated with at the moment.
The Asus ZenPad S 8.0 features a 2K 2048x1536 resolution IPS display, which looked brilliantly vibrant in our hands-on. This could be thanks to the firm's True2life Plus technology, which it says offers a sharper display for smoother, non-blurry playback of video.
We found that it operated fluidly and appeared bright, too, thanks to the IPS panel, which helped to keep blacks dark: a much welcome addition, which will most likely push up the price.
Performance and OS
Both models of the ZenPad tablet will feature chips based on Intel's latest Silvermont microarchitecture, which is aimed at low-power Atom and Celeron branded processors used in systems on a chip.
While the less powerful ZenPad 8.0 features an Intel Atom x3-C3200 chip running at 1.2GHz and 1GB or 3GB RAM, the ZenPad S 8.0 that we tested is powered by a higher spec 64-bit Intel Moorefield Z3580 running at 2.33GHz alongside 4GB RAM.
In our initial tests, the ZenPad S 8.0 ran smoothly on Android 5.0 Lollipop with no lag, though this will be something we will have to test properly in a full review, as installing all of your favourite apps can slow down Android.
Connectivity, storage and camera
The ZenPad S also has an array of advantages over its weaker sibling, such as a USB Type-C port instead of microUSB for more convenient charging, alongside the better screen and updated design.
There's a 5MP camera on the front and an 8MP one on the back. We had a quick test of these and while nothing out of the ordinary stood out, they seemed to function well with relatively fast shutter speeds.
Furthermore, the S version comes with up to 64GB of storage, as opposed to 32GB on the ZenPad 8.0, with pricing increasing depending on storage choice. Asus didn't unveil the storage options for the ZenPads but we can imagine it will be something along the lines of 16GB, 32GB or 64GB for the S version.
Pricing and availability
In true Asus style, we don't yet know the prices or availability of the tablets, either, not for the UK, nor the US or any other country for that matter. The firm did say during the press conference that it will be the first company to ship with the new Silvermont Intel chips "globally", however.
Asus devices launched at Computex usually take around nine months to come to market in the UK, so if you really want one, we wouldn't advise holding your breath.